Does Your Dog’s Nose Hold The Key To Early Cancer Detection?

Lydia McNutt
by Lydia McNutt
Thanks to the efforts of the InSitu Foundation, the answer is yes! These cancer-detecting canines can smell sickness with more accuracy than a machine.

Dogs have about 300 million scent receptors. To put that in perspective, humans have five million. That explains how my dog can whiff out a plastic-wrapped Twinkie… in my purse… in the car… parked across the street. Yup, he’s that good! While my dog’s nose is totally self-serving, you can’t deny that’s a pretty awesome talent. InSitu Foundation is harnessing that nasal power to sniff out certain kinds of cancer in humans.

InSitu is a non-profit organization that trains pooches to detect the big C, using, you guessed it, a food-based reward system. Okay, so maybe this olfactory aptitude is a little self-serving.

Related: Easy-To-Understand Cartoon On How A Dog’s Nose Can “See” [Video]

A different kind of service dog

We’ve all heard of service dogs in a variety of industries – airport bomb-sniffing dogs, to medical assistance dogs that guide the blind, help autistic kids or alert diabetics of low blood sugar episodes before they even happen. Our four-legged friends are a talented bunch, and they are now being used to protect humans from one of the leading causes of death the world over.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2015 the U.S. will see around 1,658,370 new cancer cases diagnosed and 589,430 cancer deaths. With April being cancer awareness month, we thought this would be a great time to spread the word and work of InSitu and their amazing employment of man’s best friend.

Related: Amazing Therapy Dogs Help Diabetics Live Healthier, Happier Lives

Smelling in layers

According to InSitu, dogs have the ability to layer scent, which is exactly what lets my own dog detect the goodies in my bag, through cover of packaging, fabric, leather and whatever else stands between his nose and the mouth-watering indulgence. This same principle applies when it comes to detecting certain diseases – like cancer – which each have their own specific scent.

The dogs win by a nose

Studies have shown dogs can actually smell early stage cancer with 88 percent specificity and 99 percent sensitivity. In medicine, numbers this high are rarely seen. More accurate than machines, the “nose” method also offers the benefits of being the cheaper, non-invasive method of discovery. So far, our four-legged friends are three for three.

While technology has certainly come a long way, most machines used to find cancer are either “sensitive” or “specific” but don’t deliver both qualities. The result is false positives, unnecessary biopsies and surgeries, and worse – cancers that go undiagnosed. Dogs, on the other hand, offer the best of both worlds. Honestly, is there anything they can’t do?

Put those dogs to work

InSitu participated in two federally funded studies that explored canine scent detection in early and late stage lung, breast and ovarian cancer. (Wow, it makes you wonder what Fido’s really getting at the next time he buries his head in your crotch!) And their work’s far from finished. The organization is currently in a collaborative study with Duke University on differentiating between cancer and benign tumors. Some say studying dogs’ sense of smell can help humans learn more about the distinct “sick smell” and advance the detection and treatment cancer in its early stages. But others argue, with pooches’ already developed, already proven accuracy and sensitivity, why not employ their amazing aromatic ability on the front lines, in hospitals, right now? We agree! We want 50CCs of cancer-sniffing dogs at our hospitals, stat!

For more information and to donate, visit InSitu’s official website.

Lydia McNutt is an award winning writer, editor, blogger and proud mama of three of the fur-babies: her two cats, Phoebe and Brewster (who think they are dogs,) and her 90-pound yellow lab, Fred – the biggest lap dog you’ll ever meet. When her head’s not in a cloud of fur, you’ll find Lydia chasing her toddler through the neighborhood, reading a good biography, or writing about… Well, you’ll just have to read more of Lydia’s articles to find out!

Lydia McNutt
Lydia McNutt

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